TORONTO — Even the pinch-hit return of Jose Bautista could not help the Toronto Blue Jays.
The all-star right-fielder appeared in his first game in a week, pinch hitting in the sixth inning but grounding in to a force out on Sunday as the Chicago White Sox defeated the Blue Jays 4-0, Toronto’s third loss in a row.
“Hopefully, Bautista’s back in here the next couple of games to give us kind of a jolt in the lineup,” said Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle who took the loss despite holding the White Sox to two runs in eight innings.
Chicago got seven strong innings from left-hander Jose Quintana (5-7) and a home run and a double from right-fielder Moises Sierra, who started the season with Toronto.
Bautista, who did not play in at all the in the previous six games because of a mild left hamstring strain, hopes that he will be able to return full-time by Tuesday when the Blue Jays next play.
“Everybody knows I can’t go out on the field and not be 100 per cent,” Bautista said before the game after testing the leg by running. “Hopefully by Tuesday I feel better and I can be in the outfield. If not I can DH the whole game and play the day after.”
The return of the right-fielder cannot come soon enough. The Blue Jays finished with a 12-15 record in June after winning the first five games of the month. They lead the American League East despite losing nine of their past 13 games.
The Blue Jays won only the opener of the four-game series against the White Sox (39-44) who are fourth in the American League Central.
Besides Bautista’s potent right-handed bat, Toronto (45-39) is also without Brett Lawrie who is on the disabled list with a broken right index finger.
“They’re a big part of it, no question about that,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons . “Really it’s been a couple of weeks we’ve been cold, regardless. We had some games in there we put some runs up. Overall, since our big streak (21-9 in May), we’ve cooled off quite a bit there. We need to get going. Today was just kind of flat, one of those dead days.
“Buehrle pitched good enough to win, he really did. He did what he always does. We got zero going and it’s frustrating.”
Toronto’s hitters are frustrated with the scoring drought as well.
“It is hard because you never know who’s going to be in the lineup,” said Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes who had a double and a single on Sunday. “There’s a lot of different people every single day, coming up from the minor leagues and stuff. People need to step it up. If we want to continue to be in first place we need to play better baseball.”
Quintana held the Blue Jays to three hits and two walks while striking out seven. He’s won back-to-back starts.
Buehrle (10-5), who has not won since June 1, lost for the fourth time in his past five starts. He allowed six hits, two walks and two runs while striking out five against in his second career start against his former team.
White Sox designated hitter Jose Abreu extended his hit streak to 14 games with an RBI single in the third inning. He drove in second baseman Gordon Beckham who hit a two-out double.
Sierra hit his second homer of the season with one out in the fourth to put the White Sox into a 2-0 lead. Chicago claimed Sierra off waivers from the Blue Jays on May 3.
Buehrle knows Sierra will chase pitches out of the strike zone from watching him Toronto but lamented his change-up down the middle of the plate.
“I pretty much teed one up for him and that’s what he’s supposed to do with it,” Buehrle said.
The Blue Jays did not have as many as two runners on base in an inning until the sixth when Reyes doubled with one out and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion walked with two out.
That brought out Bautista, who had not played since June 22, to bat for catcher Dioner Navarro. Reyes took third on a wild pitch as Bautista worked the count to 3-2 on Quintana. But he hit a ground ball to shortstop and Encarnacion was forced out at second to end the inning.
“I tried to keep the ball down with him,” Quintana said. “Behind in the count 2-0, I wanted to keep the ball away. After I’m behind in the count, I just tried to get the round ball.”
The White Sox added two runs in the ninth against right-hander Sergio Santos on a single by catcher Tyler Flowers. It scored first baseman Paul Konerko who walked with one out and took third on Sierra’s double.
Left-hander Eric Surkamp pitched the eighth and right-hander Jake Petricka took over for the ninth.